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Craigieburn blog.

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Lost Skier in the Craigieburn Ranges

However, we nearly lost a long term club member a couple of weeks ago. An extremely experienced and accomplished individual went up Hamilton around 3pm one afternoon just as some weather was coming in. He lost his bearings and ended up going in 180 degrees the wrong direction, down the Cass Valley, as opposed to into Alan's Basin and home. Once he realised he was lost, it was getting dark and it had begun to snow heavily so he decided to dig some shelter under a rock. However after 30 or 40 minutes he realised he would probably freeze to death if he stayed put. His story is an epic tale of survival and sheer gutsy determination to live which will be told in an upcoming Towline. What I want to discuss today, however, is what we take in our backpacks when we go back country adventuring.

What this member had with him in his pack, which is what a lot of us carry as a minimum:

  • Shovel
  • Transceiver
  • Probe
  • Skins
  • A handful of small chocolates.
  • A plastic water bottle he was able to melt snow in when put against his skin.

And he survived a night out in a storm and a huge walk the next day.

After talking to others more experienced than myself I have put together some suggestions of other equipment you might also choose to carry. This kit can be transferred for other outdoor activities such as mountain biking and hiking.

  • A personal locator beacon – these can be purchased for as little as $420 here. Thus at least take the ‘search’ out of search and rescue as they emit a homing signal once activated. Alternatively there are ‘Spot’ trackers which can allow you to transmit your location, send ‘I am ok’ and ‘SOS’ messages, these transmit the GPS co-ordinates of where you are when you activate it, so you need to stay put. However, they require a subscription starting at around $15 per month.
  • A packable down or synthetic vest as an extra layer if caught out. Down will keep you warmest but does not perform if wet.
  • A phone, there is limited but occasional cell reception on the mountain tops. There is also the ability for most modern smart phones to download an offline map of the local area to help assist if caught in a white out. Snow has this feature or a free app called New Zealand Maps by The benefit being that with the assistance of a compass, you can find your bearings.
  • A watch.
  • Lighter, waterproof matches, and a piece of inner tube (or some other more environmentally friendly flammable material), to be able to light a small smoky fire to attract attention if immobile.
  • An emergency poncho or survival blanket, from around $10.
  • Pocket knife or multi tool.
  • Compass – from around $20.
  • Food – personal preference, but longer lasting muesli bars like One Square Meal, or another type of protein bar.
  • Water
  • Cable ties, in case something breaks and you can fix it with a temporary repair.
  • A small head torch, in case you do become immobile then people searching can see your light, or you can find you way back if you get delayed due to equipment failure.
  • A whistle – to attract searchers attention if injured and immobile. There are 5 in 1 emergency whistles available here which also incorporate small compass and match holder and have a small reflective mirror.

While there are other items people may choose to include or exclude this is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list just suggestions to think about in case the worst case scenario occurs when you are out exploring the back country.  

Finally, I would like extend a massive thank you and acknowledgment to the staff and guests who helped out during the search. The whole team worked amazingly well together, capably led by Sophie. The patrol team searched in the dark on the first night until it became too dangerous, Kurt was up at 3am to clear the road so Police and SAR teams could come up and members staying as guests joined the search teams, while others provided logistical support back in the lodge. It was incredible to witness how everyone at the club came together in a time of crisis.

Personally I cannot say how relieved and thrilled I was to hear our member was safe and well and had walked into Cheeseman under his own steam, exhausted but very much alive.  Thanks to all who helped with ideas for this piece, there are many who just go about their ski business quietly and without fuss.

Stay safe and don’t dog my line.

Clive Weston and NZ Alpine Club
President (Temp) Craigieburn Valley Ski Club